Postulate

by Shahara_Zade

Dustin Yarma/OFC/David Lake | Rated T | 2002 | 8,314 words

 

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Not long ago in Silicon Valley, a young programmer made a thing he called Postulate. The program was developed as an in-house tool for advertisers and marketers, and allowed even the most novice user to synthesize and generate new sound and imagery from very small pieces of original text or footage. The user entered this data and could then run it through various filters or templates, labeled "Love", "Death", "Hero", and so forth. This produced the effect of a movie, a sort of collage of old and new and hybrid.

Applications like this already existed, but required extensive training and knowledge. Postulate only needed data; a jpeg, a clip of video, or an audio file. Of course, the more information it was fed, the higher quality result it could produce. Postulate seemed almost to possess artificial intelligence, but it threatened nearly every copyright and intellectual property law in the land, and so it was kept underground.

It was only pitched to a couple of carefully chosen companies and only one beta copy was every released. The marketing executive, to whom the software was loaned, was offered a deal in Asia that he just could not turn down. He left Postulate and most of his other possessions with his teenaged niece, hopped on a plane to Singapore, and thought nothing more about it. Around that time, the fledgling Postulate Company's venture capitalists pulled out and the programmer moved back into his mother's basement.

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Her name was Veronica Lake, just like the screen goddess. Before Postulate and Dustin Yarma came into her life, she moved with her parents, David and Margot Lake, to California. It was their tenth move in as many years. They went because David and Uncle Frank had some new deal going in the Far East, and they wanted to be closer to their clients. With all the time David and Margot were spending in Tokyo and Hong Kong and Seoul, Veronica thought sourly, the family should have moved to one of those places instead, the way they always had before when Uncle Frank got one of his ideas. But Margot was on some kick about Veronica being able to finally "put down roots" somewhere, so they ended up in Los Angeles. Well, Veronica ended up in Los Angeles anyway.

It had been the second day in June, as she and Margot walked through the house with the realtor, that Veronica first encountered the vision that was Dustin Yarma. She was almost fifteen years old and it had never occurred to her to consider whether or not she believed in love at first sight.

She stood on the deck, overlooking the city and the sea beyond, and saw the dark haired man lounging out on the patio next door, talking on his cell phone. She knew the real thing had happened to her - right then and there. It was Fate.

Her mother and the realtor murmured softly in the background about foundations and plumbing and unique architectural features, but Veronica did not hear them. She did not hear Margot come up behind her, almost twenty minutes later, so transfixed was she by the figure in the distance, who had pulled off his shirt.

"Well honey," Margot said, touching Veronica's shoulder, "I think this could be home. What do you think?"

Veronica said, "Yeah."

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April ignored the protesting twinges of her calf muscles and pedaled her mountain bike harder as she reached the crest of the hill. She shouldn't have been riding on the sidewalk, but it wasn't like anybody in LA actually walked anywhere. And, to be fair, when she crashed into Veronica Lake, Veronica hadn't been walking either. She had been standing at the edge of her driveway, half-waiting on the delivery truck that was supposed to arrive with her family's furniture, and half-hoping to catch a glimpse of Dustin Yarma's face as he pulled out of his driveway.

"Oh my god! Are you okay?" April cried. Her knees and palms stung, but she was more worried about the girl on the ground, who lay flat on her back, eyes open, not moving.

A car emerged from the next driveway, and the girl's head snapped to the side. "Oh shit! Here he comes! Help me up - okay?"

Confused, April offered her hand and grasped the other's, then leaned back, pulling the girl to her feet. "I'm so sorry, I didn't...I mean I just didn't see you there - "

"Shhhh!" The other girl commanded with an impatient gesture. "Wait."

The convertible rolled past, picking up speed. April expected its occupant to stop and ask if they were all right, but that did not happen. The driver wore sunglasses and he was speaking into his cell phone and did not appear to notice them at all.

The car disappeared over the hill. "Isn't he exquisite? Just like Rudolf Valentino! He just glows with a sort of inner light." The girl beside her sighed dramatically.

"Rudolf Valentino?" April asked.

The girl nodded, solemn. "And Dustin Yarma. Magical inner light."

"Who?"

"Come on, I'll show you. Well...if you want. If you have time. I'm Veronica, Veronica Lake." Veronica waited expectantly and April racked her brain, understanding that she was supposed to recognize the name.

"Are you - "

"No relation." Veronica grinned. "My Uncle Frank is a big fan, that's all. I was named for her."

"She's a singer?"

"Actress. What's your name?"

"April Fairman."

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"So you just, like watch him?" The guy was hot - but it seemed kind of weird, April thought. She sat on the edge of Veronica's bed twisting the tab on a Diet Coke can, watching the computer screen flicker. Veronica had the flattest, widest computer monitor April had ever seen. It took up most of the desk. The Sheik began to play onscreen.

"Ah, there's Rudy," Veronica said. "But he's better in color." She stopped the clip, dragged it over to an icon marked "Integration" and released the mouse button. The she dragged and dropped a file labeled, "Ishtar" onto it. "This won't take as long this it usually does because I've Postulated this one before," she explained to April, who looked completely baffled.

They sat in silence as the animated stopwatch hand turned. After a few minutes, the clip began playing, only Dustin Hoffman had been seamlessly replaced with Rudolf Valentino. It was as if they had a time machine. Or a magic wand. April gasped.

Veronica wrinkled her nose. "Of course, it kind of sucks, because we're stuck with Hoffman's voice...".

"Yeah, but still! It's unbelievable! Just imagine, if you could put Rudy into, Ishtar, couldn't you put Dustin into The Sheik?"

"If I had footage."

"We could make some, got a camera with auto advance?"

"Yes. Well, it's my uncle's technically. I never thought of trying to use still images before, but Postulating Dustin...god." She shivered. "It would be...intense."

April said, "I wonder about him."

"How do you mean?"

"What he is, what he does. What he thinks about. I mean, maybe he's some kind of under cover operative, just pretending to be all glamorous. Maybe he has to face terrible trials at the hands of malevolent mercenaries!"

Veronica grinned, warming to the subject. "Just imagine," she said, "Dustin could be negotiating for the lives of his countrymen as we speak!"

"Or maybe...he helps people - political dissidents or something - escape their tyrannical leaders. He leads them over the mountains to freedom, and they're caught in a terrible avalanche and trapped in a cave-"

"Brrr!" Said Veronica. Too cold!

"Okay, maybe he's like a priest...a cult leader...and there's this snake goddess and..."

Veronica sat up on her knees in the computer chair. "The Almighty Goddess has promised her faithful servants life eternal," she intoned. "But a terrible sacrifice must be made!"

"A horrible bloody sacrifice!"

"But wait..." Veronica book-marked the Lands End page with the parkas for the mountaineering story line and then went back to the clips of Anthony and Cleopatra she had saved on the desktop. "Don't you think his plans would be discovered? Wouldn't like the FBI or the AFT or somebody get him?

"Well," said April, "They would try of course, but this is Dustin after all. He's smarter than they are. He would figure out who the spy was, that had infiltrated his cult was and kill them or whatever. Or at least fake his own death and get away at the last second."

"Cool! Then maybe he falls for one of the virgins he's supposed to be sacrificing - "

"Virgins, April? Don't you think that's a little...um..."

"Yeah, okay, you're right. Gross. He falls for one of his supplicants - how 'bout that?"

God, and who wouldn't supplicate - he's Dustin!" They both giggled.

April began again. "So anyway, there's this grand fight scene in the Temple of the Snake Goddess - "

"Nice! Really folic!"

"Don't you mean phallic?"

"Well, that too." Veronica scrambled over to a cardboard box and began rummaging through it. "You know, I have this old Conan movie that would - "

"ARE-NOLD? EWWW!"

"Yeah, but the set is killer. We need a good Snake Goddess Temple. So Dustin arranges for the Goddess to manifest as a serpent and bite him, tricking the cops, but the supplicant is totally freaked out. She cold cocks the FBI plant with his own gun and drags her beloved into her waiting van."

"It just happens to be 'waiting'?"

"Well, she had a feeling something would go wrong, so she left it running, just in case."

"And then what?" April asked curiously.

"Well, unfortunately, when the serpent bit Dustin, he fell and hit his head on the stone of the temple floor, and he has amnesia now."

"Oh now that's original, Veronica!"

"Hey, I'm trying! Work with me here! Where does she take him to get away?"

"Er...Canada?"

Veronica shook her head. "No good - there's extradition."

"But she has a cabin, way out in the middle of nowhere."

"Fair enough."

"And...um...even after their traumatic experiences, they're still creative, so they become like, mystery writers or something."

"Oh my god, April!" Veronica's shoulders shook with laughter. "Poor Dustin! He's winning all those literary awards, but just can't figure out how he is able to describe those dead bodies so well!"

The saga of Dustin the Snake Priest continued to evolve until April's cell phone rang. Her mother was wondering when and if she planned on coming home for dinner. Dustin was in the process of repelling down an elevator shaft left over from Die Hard, in pursuit of a fearsome Alien.

"So where do you live, anyway?" Veronica asked as she walked her new friend to the door.

"Just over the next hill to the west. My mom is the dog handler and trainer for Debbie Zacherman's nine dachshunds. We live in her guesthouse. Taking care of them all is a full time job."

"Debbie Zacherman? The Debbie Zacherman? And she has nine dachshunds? I never knew that." Veronica was impressed.

"Don't you remember? She posed with them all for the cover of People last year."

"I guess we were still in South Africa."

"Well, don't feel bad, Veronica. You didn't miss much. It's not like anything interesting ever happens here. Not really."

"No joke. I don't know what David and Margot were thinking when they dumped me off here. Listen, do you want to come back over tomorrow? Margot won't be back for another week at least, and it gets kind of quiet here. I mean, there's Dustin and he is utterly mesmerizing, but it's more fun watching with someone else - you know?"

"Well, yeah. None of my other friends would understand it...but he is special."

"You see it too then!" Veronica rocked back on her heels, buoyant.

"And you have such good ideas," said April as she fastened her bike helmet. "I'll buy some film on my way over tomorrow - that way we can take some pictures of him - maybe from the deck."

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April spent most every day after that at Veronica's house, conceiving and creating ever more complex Postulations from bits of old movies and some snap shots of Dustin Yarma that they made and scanned. Whenever possible, they watched him.

They would squint through a pair of old binoculars, as Dustin roared away in his silver Jaguar, seemingly invincible behind his sunglasses in the mornings. They took note of his glamorous lover, who they first called Sandra, but who quickly became The Bitch. They gloated with much venom when they discovered that Dustin did not seem particularly committed to monogamy.

He didn't spend much time in his house. Veronica called it The White Palace, and when April pointed out that it was not that much different from Veronica's house, or the other houses in the neighborhood, Veronica just shrugged. It was obviously not a detail she was interested in or wanted to talk about.

Veronica's reaction convinced April that she probably shouldn't mention how much Dustin reminded her of the man in the picture on the wall in the living room. The man in the picture had his arms around a pretty woman with long brown hair, and a toddler that sort of looked like Veronica. There was some stuff you just didn't bring up, she decided, not even with your best friend.

Before long, Veronica and April felt they knew almost everything there was to know about Dustin Yarma, without actually spying on him anyway. The man could not have been more fascinating if he was trying on purpose to be. They weren't really spying on him, they told each other. It was just research for Postulate. It wasn't like they were sneaking into his house or anything, and there wasn't much else to do. April's mother was busy wrangling dachshunds, so she couldn't take them anywhere and Veronica had been right. Her family didn't come home the next week, or the week after that.

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Veronica and April watched the Postulated Dustin shoot his way through Aliens. His beautiful face looked more than a little out of focus, his movements appeared stiff and jerky. Postulate was doing the best it could with what it was given, but what had initially seemed sublime and almost magical...

Veronica addressed April from her perch on a stack of coppery silk pillows on the floor. "It just isn't good enough anymore - is it?"

"You're right. We need real footage."

"And what, go and knock on his door? Ask him to pose? Yeah. Right."

"We could do it secretly. Hide the camera in a purse, go over and pretend to be selling something...um...Girl Scout cookies."

"That's stupid. We're too old. And we don't have uniforms, April. Or cookies."

"We could be...raising money. For school."

"We're home schooled - remember? Every kid in this neighborhood is home schooled. You said so yourself."

"Well, Veronica, I don't know."

"Well I don't either."

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The next day, two things happened that changed the nature of their Postulations completely. The first was that Dustin suddenly had a houseguest. The second was that an ideal tool for gathering Dustin footage came in the mail. The box was postmarked Hong Kong.

Veronica seemed more annoyed than excited. "What the fuck? They're still in Hong Kong? They're supposed to be in Singapore by now. They couldn't even be bothered to tell me these things?"

"Well, maybe that means business is good. Why don't you see what's inside?" April soothed.

Veronica carried the box into the kitchen and pulled a German cook's knife from a wooden block on the counter. She sliced through the packing tape, cursing under her breath. Styrofoam popcorn scattered everywhere as she tore at the flaps of the box.

"Well?" April looked down, unsure what to make of the three cigarette pack-sized objects Veronica held up.

"Cameras. Remote surveillance cameras. Knowing Uncle Frank, they're probably authentic KGB issue, he loves this kind of black market stuff." Veronica's face remained expressionless, her tone flat. She didn't move to pick up any of the bits of popcorn.

"Oh. My. God. This is so cool, Veronica! They're exactly what we need to get the footage! And look...there's a note here."

Veronica pulled away and started to leave the kitchen.

"Do you want me to read it to you?"

"Sure, April. Knock yourself out."

The note read:

"Roni honey, happy birthday! Your dad and Frank practically got me crushed by an elephant in the market, yesterday. What was an elephant doing on a busy street in Hong Kong, you ask? Long story, all Frank's fault. More insanity, as I'm sure you can guess. We miss you very much and hope to wrap up here soon. Love, Mom."

Below that was scrawled:

Happy birthday, honey! I can't imagine what you would want with these cameras, but Frank seems to think they're a good idea. Guess I should be worried - huh? Love you, Dad.

Under that was something written in what April thought must be Chinese calligraphy.

"Hey Veronica, what's this?" She held up the paper.

Veronica grinned for the first time since the package had arrived. "It's a riddle from Uncle Frank. He likes riddles. He always makes up his own, but they never make any sense."

"So you can read Chinese?"

"No, but he knows I'll find someone online to translate."

April looked back over the note. "Why didn't you say today was your birthday?"

"It was like a week ago," Veronica answered, merriment fading. "They're usually late...just never this late before. Sometimes I think they aren't coming back."

"Well, your mom says they're going to finish up soon - see? Right here."

"Yeah." Veronica began to get that dull retreating look April dreaded.

"Hey Veronica, this is so excellent! Now we can find out who mysterious houseguest is."

"But it's the same old problem. How do we get in?"

"Remember the cookies? Well, you're still technically new to the neighborhood. We could just go over and say hi. And make some cookies...it would be a good diversion. Like backup."

"Cookies as back up? Come on, April, you grew up here, I didn't, and even I can tell you that no one around here takes cookies over to their neighbors. Maybe in like, I dunno, Mayberry, but...and besides, it's supposed to work the other way...people bring stuff over to the newcomers' house."

April knew it was time to go for broke. "But Veronica, if we got the right footage, we could clean up our version of The Sheik."

Veronica looked unconvinced.

"Or we could drop him into The English Patient," she paused for effect, "But in Kristen Scott Thomas's part."

Veronica's eyes bugged out. "I bet Margot left some sugar and flour in one of these cabinets." She whispered, breathless. "She and David cook all the time...when they're around."

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"I can't believe we're actually going through with this!" She hissed.

"Well, it was your idea, April. Just remember that when we get busted!"

They stood on Dustin's front step, cringing as the doorbell echoed. They had planned everything very carefully. Veronica had pointed out that they would probably be too nervous to actually talk convincingly to their Adored One, much less place the cameras correctly, so they would need to deal the houseguest instead. Dustin had not left for work until late that morning, the whole thing had almost fallen through.

Now, April was sure this was a bad idea. "Shit, Veronica, let's bail. I'm serious. We don't even know if the cameras will work from this distance, or if the batteries will run out after, like, an hour...this is stupid - " The words died in her throat.

The double glass doors opened.

"Hi there. What can I do for you ladies?" The blonde man smiled down at them.

Veronica launched into the lines they had practiced and April relaxed. She had suspected that Veronica was the type that could sort of "handle" older people, charm them into doing what she wanted. April had not been wrong. Veronica and the man, who introduced himself as Minnow, hit it off right away. April followed them into the Dustin's house, silent, taking in the stark white walls, the scale of the windows, the metal wire sculpture of a figure in one corner.

"So, after Prague, it was Moscow, but it was so cold and Margot hated it and so we left for Johannesburg after only a month, so I didn't really get to learn Russian or anything..." Veronica continued to prattle, laying it on thick on about South Africa, while April looked around for a place to hide the first camera.

There was a potted palm against the far wall. Ridiculous. Totally cloak and dagger. Perfect.

"Oh my god! That statue with the cowboy hat is just amazing!" Veronica drew Minnow's attention to the patio. "Could we go and see it close up, do you think?"

"Yeah, Minnow was saying, it's great at parties...Dustin has some great parties.

April heard their voices drifting outside. That was April's cue to head for the bedroom. Quick. Before he noticed. Where to put it? She slipped the camera inside the base of the lamp on the nightstand, then pulled it out again. No good. Right at eye level with whoever was in bed. Under the trinket box on the dresser?

No.

"Well...she was right here a minute ago..." her friend's voice carried high and almost anxious.

Shit. What was she supposed to do with the damned thing?

"April?"

She was out of time. There was a small sculpture sitting on the headboard and she tucked the device into its glass folds. She looked back from the door. You couldn't see it. She wondered if they would be able to see much with it.

April returned to Veronica and their host, blushing. "Um...sorry. Bathroom...er...yeah."

"So, you guys made the cookies - huh? These are terrific." Minnow munched at the edge of a decidedly burnt sugar cookie. He had, April thought, a suspiciously patronizing manner. No one was truly that friendly.

"Well," Veronica said brightly, "Listen, we shouldn't take up any more of your time. We just wanted to say hi, you know...meet the neighbors."

Minnow walked them to the door. "Absolutely, no problem. Good to meet you...um...what did you say your family did again? Marketing - right? We'll have do dinner when they get back, definitely. I think you're going to really love it here, Veronica. Good to meet you too...um..."

"April." She supplied without extending her hand. She didn't think she wanted to shake hands with him again.

"People here are really friendly," Minnow said, pausing before he shut the door. "Especially in this neighborhood. We all kind of look out for each other, you know?"

The door eased shut and the two girls walked up the drive as quickly as they could without actually running, feeling as though they had been bathing in grease.

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A few days later, they still had not completely recovered. Part of it was Dustin himself. The access they now had to his private world left them with little time for sleep or Postulating, or much of anything else. April stayed over at Veronica's house for days at a stretch, alternately thrilled and horrified by what they saw and heard with the little cameras.

Dustin, it turned out, was the most stressed, angry, explosive, tension filled person either of them had even encountered. He was constantly snapping at Minnow, who didn't seem to care much.

It wasn't like TV or the movies. You expected the camera to follow the action. You expected close ups. You got a lot of backs. Not that Dustin's back was anything less than magnificent. The cameras worked reasonably well, considering the circumstances of their installation, and they were glad they had left the third, just in case they were inspired to take a field trip.

"You know," Veronica said, "There's something weird about that Minnow guy. You don't suppose..."

"That he's Dustin's lover?" April finished the sentence.

Their eyes met. "Eww!" They shrieked simultaneously, giggling.

Veronica recovered first. "Not that I think that's wrong or anything. Dustin would be lovely with just about anybody...but not him."

"Antonio Banderas?" April suggested, licking her lips.

"Too dark."

"Um...Brad Pitt."

Veronica snorted and shook her head. "Too All American."

"Mmm, I see what you mean." April steepled her index fingers and brought her chin to rest lightly upon them. "We shall have to ponder this question most deeply."

"Indeed. It is not right that our Dustin should be alone. He needs companionship, someone to appreciate his flawless yummyness."

"And to understand and enable his...um...appetites."

They looked each other very seriously for a moment and then collapsed in a heap of laughter on the floor.

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April got to Veronica's house early that Saturday morning.

"Oh perfect timing!" cried Veronica. "He's just waking up now. Look."

April looked and decided that Dustin had not changed from the day before. He was still utterly delicious. Divine. A little bit terrifying. Not for the first time, a wave of discomfort ran up April's spine. "This is crazy, you know, Veronica. We're crazy. I mean, sooner or later he's going to find the camera. Or that Minnow guy will. They're going to take them to the police and finger print them and we're going to be totally busted. We'll go to jail. I'm serious, Ver..." Even as she spoke, her attention was riveted to the monitor. Dustin sat up and rubbed his eyes and shuffled off to the bathroom. He hadn't worn anything to bed.

At first, they had screamed with delight at each new thing they saw him do. Sleeping, eating, reading, doing paperwork, snorting the occasional line of cocaine - all were unique sources of hysteria in the beginning. Now they could usually watch with the appropriate silent reverence.

They should have been studying more. April's mother had only agreed to let her do home school because the public school curriculum was so unchallenging. Veronica had moved around so much, she had learned to read and write mostly on her own. She didn't know the first thing about algebra or physics.

April was worried about Veronica. Since they had become friends, Veronica had only received the spy cameras from Frank and a hand full of emails from her parents. She seemed...well...depressed. She often answered the door in her pajamas, dark wavy hair in tangles. Some days, she didn't talk much, just sat fiddling with the remote control on the cameras and staring at the pool next door, whether Dustin was in it or not. April wished she knew what to do to make things better. She wished she could think of something to say, or that she could somehow find Veronica's parents, wherever they were, and tell them they shouldn't stay away so much.

"Dustin is the most beautiful man in all the world," Veronica proclaimed as they sprawled on her bed. On screen, Dustin sat at his desk, back to the potted plant and to them.

"Yeah, if they had a contest, he would win."

Veronica looked up sharply. "Sure he would, but those things are so demeaning. Totally not kosher, beneath him, you know?"

"Um...well...you're right, I didn't mean..." April stammered, taken aback.

"No biggie. I like, wouldn't be here if it weren't for a beauty contest."

"How so?"

"David and Uncle Frank sort of ran one, before I was born. It was kind of a scam... at least Margot says so, but-"

"She won the contest?" April thought of the picture downstairs, of the sunburned woman grinning at the camera. She didn't seem...well...

"Nope, she wasn't in the contest, she just helped out with it. Anyway, she married David right after it was over, and I was born a year after that. Veronica's features clouded over, as she was reminded that her email had been nothing but spam the past few days.

"I know you miss them."

She nodded, but didn't respond.

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Veronica had gone downstairs to get a soda the day things at Dustin's house began to get really strange. April lay across the end of the bed, watching Dustin in his black silk shirt pace around the house. Sometimes it was like the whole world had been reduced to this: the monitor, the deck, the cameras, and Dustin. April realized that she couldn't remember the last time she had been to a movie theater or a restaurant. Existence was Diet Coke and the hum of the ceiling fan in Veronica's room. It was Dustin adjusting the thermostat, Dustin shouting at Minnow, the two of them sparring.

"My boss...you...you remember him. Course you do. You were sucking up to him so hard your lips are probably still stuck. He called me on my cell phone. He wanted to know if I'd had a brain transplant or something..." Dustin gestured wildly with his hands. He wanted to know when I made you my partner! Do you understand now? Is it getting any clearer for you?"

April sat up. It wasn't the yelling, Dustin was always yelling, it was the smug expression in Minnow's face. It gave her that greasy sick feeling again.

"Yeah, I get it. Katie Scott." Minnow said.

"There is a rule in show business, you never ever, ever push a man into a corner!" Dustin leaned in very close to Minnow. April thought, just for a moment, that he would kiss the man...or hit him. Neither happened.

"Dustin, buddy - "

"Shut up!"

"There is nothing to worry about. She's gonna do it."

"Shut up!"

"It went great with Katie. She like me - "

"She liked you? You told her that I didn't even want her. You told her that we were going to give Alison Lane more money. You totally insulted her!"

"No I didn't. She's gonna say yes. I'm telling you man..."

April glanced up as Veronica came back into the room.

"What's up? I could hear them all the way down in the kitchen," she asked.

"They're fighting again."

"Now what?"

"Well," said April, thoughtful, "I think Minnow is just kind of getting in his space - you know? It sounds like there's some kind of business deal and he screwed it up or - "

"Oh, yeah, that reminds me, April. I did that keyword search on the Los Angeles Times site after you left last night. It turns out Dustin is a movie producer, isn't that funny? It's like he was meant for us to find. It's like fate."

"Yeah," said April "Like we're supposed to somehow...I don't...I mean, what we see, we're the only people that really know him. We see everything, the beauty and the ugliness...well...right now, especially the ugliness...and we still love him - right?"

"More than anything." Veronica agreed. "He isn't perfect, but he's ours. He's here every day for us; he gives us everything. I think we're very, very lucky to have him."

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When Veronica woke up, April was gone. It was daylight outside, but she had her days and nights mixed up so badly, she wasn't sure of the day of the week anymore. There was a note, attached to the computer monitor with scotch tape. It read:

Hey Veronica, my mom called. Looks like we're going to have to spend the day with her lame ass boyfriend, Martin. Back tomorrow with the horror stories. Blow Dustin a goodnight kiss for me, A.

Veronica had been dreaming that Margot had come home alone and married Dustin and that they fought all the time. What was Dustin really doing? Veronica, still groggy, blinked at the imagery onscreen. April had turned down the volume on the monitor. It was a strange scene, Dustin kneeling on the living room floor, riffling though papers.

"...So listen, I will...I promise, I promise, I promise...I *will* make this up to you - okay? Bye."

Veronica shook her head, she had heard that one before too.

He switched off the phone, bent over the papers on the zebra striped carpet. "Where are you? Where are you? Where are you?" He muttered. He seemed almost frantic. "He doesn't have her body. I know he doesn't have her body. What's he done? What's he done with her? He couldn't have moved her off the beach...where, where, where, where..."

Veronica turned the volume back down, stunned. She didn't even take notice when another man came to visit Dustin. Of all the times for April to be gone! A body? Dustin knew who didn't have the body? Something bad had happened, must have happened. It would explain why Dustin was so tense. She should have sensed it earlier, she should have known Dustin wasn't always like this. She thought of the man she had seen when she first moved in, the confidence of his stride, the set of his shoulders, he wasn't the kind to jump at shadows. Not under any kind of normal circumstances.

She wished she could talk to her Uncle Frank, not her parents of course, they would never get it, probably have her put away somewhere, but Frank understood devotion. He understood how you could totally belong to someone, and they could belong to you. Whatever had happened, Veronica was determined to help Dustin, if she could. It was only fair. He was always there for her, when she fell asleep, when she woke up, when no one else could be counted on, he could be...in Real Life and in Postulations.

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"Well, yeah," said April. "I did get all your emails, and it sounds bad. So what do you think we should do?"

"Dustin hasn't been home in a while now, April. I feel so helpless. I mean, I think he meant Minnow."

"That Minnow did something with a body? Well, he's right there, sitting on the god damned bed, drawing. I mean, I don't like him anymore than you do, he radiates slimeball-ness, but he doesn't look...well...he doesn't look guilty."

Dustin's phone rang and Minnow answered. They couldn't hear the voice on the other end, but suddenly the man did not look pleased.

"He's calling for a cab. April, I think this is it. We have to see where he goes!"

"How? We don't have money for a cab to follow him."

Veronica was wiggling her feet into her sneakers. "We've got something better."

"What's that?"

"Margot's car. Come on, and don't forget the extra camera - just in case."

April made her way down the stairs after her friend. "Car? Where? Since when?"

"In the garage, of course." Veronica opened the door off the kitchen, and sure enough, in the garage was an old red MG.

"Subtle, Veronica. Perfect for tailing somebody - red and loud. And since when do you drive?"

"I've driven before." Veronica climbed into the car and began adjusting the seat and fiddling with the rear view mirror. She hit the automatic garage door opener with a flourish, whistling the theme to Mission Impossible.

April settled herself in the passenger seat, quickly found the seatbelt and snapped it in place, finger trembling. This was scary, she thought. And really, really dangerous. Watching Dustin, Postulating him. That was one thing. But this? Following some guy who could be a murderer? Someone had died - Dustin had said as much!

Veronica turned the key. The engine sputtered and died. She tried again, achieving the same result. "It's just because it's been sitting here so long. Don't worry," she said, swallowing hard. Finally, she got the car running, and they pulled out into the street to wait for the cab.

"So," said April. "When did you drive this car before?"

"A couple of times with Uncle Frank...sort of...but don't worry...really. He and David used to take me go-cart racing all the time when I was little. It isn't that much different."

"Go-carts. You drove go carts." April felt like she was going to throw up. "Veronica, it's not-"

"Oh my god! There's the cab, April! Get down!" They ducked as Minnow came out. Veronica peeked over the dashboard. "Okay, he's getting in...cool. Hang on."

April's head snapped back as they took off. "Hey! Watch it!"

"Sorry."

"Cat! Don't hit the cat! Um...headlights?"

"He'll see us."

"Veronica, if you don't put on the headlights, we'll get pulled over. Not to mention arrested for being underage and operating a vehicle without a license. My mom would kill me, you have no idea."

"Okay, okay. Lights on - check. Anything else?" Veronica snapped.

"Yeah. He's turning."

"Shit!"

They tailed the cab out to the ocean and a street of some of the most exclusive houses in the city. When the cab stopped, Veronica and April drove for another block and then pulled over.

"He's going into the house," April reported, looking out the back window. "Now what? We can't leave the car here - it'll get towed. And we can't see anything anyway."

"The car will be fine. Let's go down to the beach, maybe we can see something more from there." Veronica slipped out of the car, and over a redwood fence, the still camera bouncing on a strap against her chest, and the equipment for recording the surveillance camera data in the backpack slung over her shoulder.

"Um...ever heard of trespassing?" April yelled over the crack of thunder as she raced to catch up. Her eyes stung from the wind.

"It's a vacant lot, April, chill."

Lightning flashed. April could see the surf glittering. It was not cold, but she did feel chilled. Beach grasses scratched at her legs as they walked, trying to count houses. She wished that she had paid attention to the number they passed before the stopped the car. "Look," she said. "I will if you promise me one thing. I mean it, Veronica, you have to promise." Something had to be said, one way or another.

"Sure. What am I promising?"

"Just that you understand...whatever happens, even if somehow we can help Dustin...it isn't going to bring David home any faster, Margot either. Okay? Just tell me you get that."

"Uh yeah. I get it." Veronica's face looked strangely peaceful, almost happy. "Two totally different people, April. I promise I haven't lost my grip on reality. Okay?"

April was not so sure she agreed with that statement, but she said, "There's lights on in that one. Don't get too close - okay? There's not much cover out here."

"There's Dustin! Look! And there's a girl too - wonder what she's up to?"

"They're fighting again, hear them? Are we rolling?"

"Oh my god, April, you sound like a reporter." Veronica giggled nervously. "Yeah, the camera's on. Hey, do you know, this is the first time that we've been part of the footage? It's kind of funny if you think about it...oh...he's got a gun!"

Minnow and Dustin came flying off the deck. They crashed onto the ground and struggled together, punching, shouting. Veronica caught her breath in horror. Dustin ran toward them, out through the gap in the picket fence, Minnow after him. They fell on each other again, one had a bottle and was beating the other, but the girls couldn't quite tell which was which. "I'm going to kill you!" Dustin yelled.

Veronica and April pressed themselves as far back against the sand dune as they could, unable to move. They saw the girl running at the two men, heard her scream, "Don't, please!" They heard the thud as the bottle hit the girl's temple and she fell to the ground. It was only because Veronica clapped her hand over April's mouth, that they did not hear April scream.

They watched Dustin and Minnow stand and bleed and stare down at the girl's unmoving body for a long time. Every time the lightening flashed, it seemed more unreal.

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She never could remember how they made it to the car, or back to Veronica's house. She didn't remember much of anything, except that she had been saying, over and over, "He didn't mean to! It was an accident! He didn't mean it!"

It had happened though. Dustin, gorgeous, stunning, darling Dustin had hurt someone. Well, more than hurt her. A girl only a little older than they were...he had...it was too awful to think about. They sat on the floor in Veronica's bedroom, the camera between them. It couldn't be real, what they had seen, their Dustin couldn't have hurt anyone! It was that bastard Minnow. He was responsible, it was clear now.

"What are we going to do?" Veronica asked, not looking at her.

"We can't let Minnow win. It doesn't matter how we feel about Dustin right now, we *owe* him. We have to fix it." April said.

"How?"

"Postulate the footage so Dustin didn't...I mean...look...we know it was an accident! We just show who was really at fault - you know?" The words came spilling forth. She had to get them all out while she could still breathe.

"And then what?"

"We make a tape - a fake video tape. Like we were just walking on the beach and happened to be there. The worse it looks, the better, really. It won't need as much editing, that kind of thing always looks grainy and blurry. You'll just need to be able to see who was standing where. And...and we can give it to Dustin. He'll know what to do with it. Minnow won't have him anymore! He'll have witnesses on his side!"

Veronica spoke, her tone monotone...eerie. "Yeah, cause I know what I saw. I saw Dustin on the ground when Minnow hit that girl with a bottle."

"Well, yeah, Veronica. Because that's what happened." April thought back and realized that she really did sort of remember it that way. Dustin wouldn't - couldn't hurt anyone. They just had to show that.

"Okay, why don't you get started downloading the stuff from the beach. I'm going to get his cell phone number."

"How?"

"Don't worry about it," Veronica smiled and sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. "Vee have vays of getting zis tings." She winked at April and disappeared from the room.

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"It still doesn't look right...it looks...I don't know...edited! We need some better image of him laying in the sand...it has to be clear he was nowhere near them!" April wailed three hours later. Crushing panic rose in her chest.

"Well, I guess we have no choice now," said Veronica in a small voice. She had been quiet for a while, sitting on the bed behind April, knees drawn up to her chest, wrapped in a blanket. Dark circles rimmed her eyes. Neither of them had slept in well over twenty-four hours.

"What do you mean?"

"Downstairs, in the cabinet under the TV, there's a box of old videos. Get the one marked, 'Jamaica, 1997'. It has all the laying in the sand we'll need."

April went to look for the video, pretending she couldn't hear Veronica crying again.

They worked through the afternoon, integrating the pieces, making sure the voices on the audio track didn't contradict what was seen. Veronica wouldn't look at the Jamaica footage at all, so it was April that cut and pasted in the parts of David Lake napping on the beach as his wife and daughter filmed him and chattered in the background. Postulate did the real work, matching the darkness of the sky and the clothes to match Dustin's. It was as if Postulate was well...sympathetic. It was frightening.

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April drew in her breath as the doorbell rang. Veronica sat in the computer chair, gazing at the screen as the new scene played and Minnow smashed the girl's head with the bottle.

"Guess that's him. You told him nine o'clock - right? What did you tell him anyway?"

Veronica said nothing. She seemed kind of lost, disconnected.

"Veronica?"

The doorbell rang again.

"Come on, we can use the TV in the living room - it's still hooked up - right?" April's heart thudded, hollow in her chest. She made her way down the stairs to the door. Even though she knew who was waiting on the other side of the door, she almost screamed when she opened it. Dustin seemed taller in person. Larger and more imposing. His face was purple in some places, and slightly swollen.

"Well? What do you want?" His voice came in a raspy whisper.

April had heard that bitter tension before and enjoyed the way it quickened her pulse. She had never imagined how it would feel to have that voice directed at her, to look up and see the green of his glare. She now understood that she had never really believed in the existence of Dustin until now. He had been a safe and far away image, just a pretty thing to Postulate. She had called him, she and Veronica, and he was here now. And he was real. And he had killed someone.

She found that she was shaking all over. "Um..." She swallowed. She backed away from the door.

"Come and see." Veronica called from behind her. She sounded as though she were speaking from the bottom of a well. The TV was on and April moved toward its blue glow, hearing the man follow her. She didn't think she could stand to turn around and see him again. She went to stand beside Veronica and found her hand and grasped it. It was cold, but she wasn't shaking as badly.

Dustin might kill them too. She hadn't considered this before, but now it seemed...possible. He had been so angry, so very angry. Veronica pressed play on the remote, and the three of them watched the carefully crafted, deliberately grainy footage. It looked like the poor quality video seen on reality TV shows all the time, complete with jerky nauseating camera gyration and poor lighting. It was by far their most stunning, realistic Postulation to date.

"Oh my god. Oh my fucking god." Dustin covered his mouth and nose with his hands. "He...how..."

"We will testify if we have to," said Veronica between clenched teeth. "We were just walking on the beach...that's all."

"But that isn't...I...he...oh fuck! What is this?"

April watched Dustin step back, as though he were afraid of them. The feeling, right now, was mutual. It was horrible. Too horrible. What had they done?

Veronica ejected the tape and held it out to Dustin. "Take it. We made it for you."

His eyes went wide and he took another step back, breathing heavy. "How? Why...why? Why did you do this?"

April glanced involuntarily at the picture of Veronica and her family, hanging on the far wall. She heard Dustin clear his throat.

"Oh. Oh god, this is just...just." His mouth fell open as he caught sight of the picture.

Veronica stiffened, still holding out the videotape. "Take it," she said again. "Take it and go. Please."

Dustin absently took the tape from her and wandered towards the picture, as if in a trance. No one said anything, for what seemed like eons. The girls clutched each other's hands tightly, waiting.

At last Dustin said, "So he isn't around much, your dad?"

Veronica didn't answer.

Dustin turned back to them and leaned in just enough to finally take the tape from Veronica, without touching her. "Stupid man, who doesn't know what he has...doesn't take care of it." He whispered softly. "Thank you." He regarded them for a moment longer and then let out a breath and walked back out into the night.

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The best thing about Postulating had been the aspect of drama, the adventure. Having survived their own adventure, making up pretend ones just didn't seem right anymore. April and Veronica had not had the heart to check the potted palm camera, or the headboard one either, but Minnow seemed to have vanished. The moving trucks next door indicated that Dustin, too, was going to vanish, at least from their world. They decided that they were okay with it. Dustin seemed okay when they saw him from Veronica's deck one afternoon. Sober, but okay. The girl who had been killed would not be okay ever again. They had watched her die, over and over, as they Postulated to save Dustin. It hadn't been like the movies. The image would be with them always.

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Veronica blew out the flaming marshmallow and took a huge squishy bite. "This is pointless, April. They aren't coming."

April turned from the hibachi on the deck, where she was roasting her own marshmallow at the end of a fondue fork. "Well, the email said this evening, right? It's probably just traffic. Getting here from the airport always takes forever..."

A cab pulled up in front of the house and a woman in a rumpled business suit was emerging, dragging a couple of duffel bags in each hand to the door. She looked up at the girls, smiled, waved, and disappeared inside.

Next out of the cab, appeared a scruffy, bearded man, also loaded down with baggage. He only looked like Dustin if you really squinted, April thought. It was more the black leather jacket than his face anyway. She felt inexplicably disappointed, and very relieved.

Behind David, carrying only a tiny bonsai tree, was the man who had to be Uncle Frank.

David called up, "Hey Roni! You get the riddle yet?"

Veronica pulled a perfectly browned marshmallow off her fondue fork. "Yeah, I got it."

"Well?" David's eyes twinkled and he shifted under the weight of the bags. "Come on, honey. Spill it. He wouldn't tell me!"

Veronica leaned over the deck railing and dropped the marshmallow into Frank's upturned open mouth. "It said, wherever you go, there you are."

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END

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